Although it has felt as if Game of Thrones has been treading water at certain points this season, “Book of the Stranger” is overflowing with forward momentum. Conventional wisdom would suggest that we would have to wait until much later in the season for long overdue, fan-pleasing moments such as Sansa and Jon reuniting or Daenerys taking the Dothraki under her command, but “Book of the Stranger’ wastes no time in getting to the point. It may have a few blemishes (no surprise, the worst part of the episode has to do with Ramsay, who is pretty much a running gag at this point), but overall, this episode is definitely the highlight of the season so far, primarily because of how it avoids stagnation with most of its storylines and reinforces the notion that we’re actually building towards a series conclusion. Plus, it’s hard not to admire an episode that gives us a Stark reunion we’ve been waiting six seasons for.
Sansa Stark is truly coming into her own in season six. Her reunion with Jon is touching in a broad sense because it’s been so long since we’ve seen any of the remaining Stark children together (okay, that’s putting it lightly; it hasn’t happened since the third season!) but the best thing about their reunion is that Sansa flat out admits that she was a terrible child and treated Jon poorly. There is actually some great subtext underlying this conversation, as if the writers are acknowledging the fact that out of the whole Stark clan, Sansa and Jon probably had the least formed relationship; partly due to Sansa’s superiority complex, as well as the fact that they have barely had any interaction on the show.
The notion of family and restoring order are really the only things keeping Sansa going right now (that, and her thirst for vengeance) and in a way, she “saves” the newly-resurrected Jon Snow by imparting these motivations on her half-brother, who begins the episode ready to wash his hands of everything having to do with the north. Sansa, helped along by a timely letter from Ramsay that basically goads Jon into going to war with him, help Jon rediscover his purpose. There are surely still dark times ahead for the Starks, but this is probably the brightest things have looked for them since the time when they still called Winterfell home.
Jon and Sansa have the Wildlings behind them, but they may also have additional help coming from an unlikely source. Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish finally returns to the fold this week and wastes no time in bending the Lord of the Vale to his will. Judging by his actions here, it would appear that Baelish is trying to atone for his sins, at least where Sansa is concerned, as he convinces complete tool Lord Robin to send the send the Knights of the Vale north to help her fight the Boltons. As usual, it’s difficult to know for sure what Littlefinger’s actual goals are, but sending an army against Ramsay is sure to put him in viewer’s good books for the time being.
One of the worst storylines gets a notable boost this week thanks to some interesting political dealings courtesy of Tyrion Lannister. The Meereen subplot still feels useless but at the very least, this week’s developments are intriguing and actually play out with some suspense. Tyrion’s pragmatic approach to the slavery issue definitely opens up a political can of worms, as his request that the Slave Masters abolish slavery over a seven year period understandably doesn’t sit well with former slaves Missandei and Grey Worm. It’s not-so-subtly hinted at that Tyrion’s attempts to make peace with Meereen’s enemies will blow up in his face and although it’s still hard to care about what happens with this subplot, there are enough interesting developments to keep it from feeling too disconnected from the more “important” storylines.
We get an extended scene of Margaery and the High Sparrow this week and while it’s good to see that the show hasn’t forgotten about the queen, the High Sparrow’s plodding monologue only reinforces how much the Faith Militant’s King’s Landing occupation has worn out its welcome. The High Sparrow’s religious zeal is designed to be infuriating, this much is true, but at this point, it’s really just getting in the way of characters we care about doing more interesting things. Margaery is at her best when she’s trading barbs with Cersei; not imprisoned in a dank cell while she’s berated with demands to confess her sins. Thankfully, it looks like everyone is finally fed up enough with the High Sparrow and his followers to actually start doing something about it, as Cersei and Jaime form an unlikely alliance with Lady Olenna Tyrell and Kevan Lannister to oust them from the city once and for all. Unfortunately, getting rid of the Faith Militant likely means that we’ll be seeing more of Dorne in the near future, so the story progression here feels like both a blessing and a curse.
If “Book of the Stranger” has a weakness, it’s that it yet again falls back on the tired trope of Ramsay brutally killing someone. Of course, it was pretty clear that Osha wasn’t going to leave that room alive, especially when she started eyeing Ramsay’s paring knife, but that’s exactly why this whole scene felt so tired and predictable. Ramsay always, always, gets the upper hand in every scene he’s in and it’s well past the point of absurdity. At this point, it would actually be shocking if we could get through a Ramsay scene without him killing someone. He’s not an interesting or complex character; he’s a cartoon villain who is kept around just to make life miserable for any other character viewers might be rooting for. Yes, the note he sends to Jon Snow is suitably bone-chilling and infuriating (and has the added benefit of finally giving Jon a reason to want to kill Ramsay, which is something we’ve been waiting multiple seasons for) but at this point, it’s not difficult to imagine a post-Ramsay Game of Thrones being vastly superior to one with him in it. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait much longer to find out.
Thankfully, “Book of the Stranger” ends on a high note, with what is hands down the best scene of the season so far, which is quite remarkable when you consider that we’ve also had a Jon Snow resurrection and a Stark reunion. Ever since Daenerys was captured by the Dothraki at the end of last season, it’s been easy to assume that she would need to be rescued in order for this plot to be resolved. The show seemed to actively encourage these thoughts, as it not only had Jorah and Daario mount a rescue mission, but a dramatic Drogon intervention has also remained a distinct possibility. Bravo to the show’s writers for taking things in the best possible direction by having Dany save herself by literally burning all of the Khals alive.
Dany is a character known for making these sort of big plays, as she always seems to have an ace up her sleeve, but the way she essentially feeds on the Khals’ violent threats before literally burning the whole thing to the ground has got to be one of the best surprises Game of Thrones has delivered in a long time. After seasons of build-up, Dany has finally done what she had always planned to do by acquiring a Dothraki army and in one fell swoop, has lifted her arc to the top of the pile in terms of the show’s most exciting. We can only hope that this renewed sense of determination and power isn’t wasted on another city no one cares about …
Other Events This Week
- It looks like Theon is fully #TeamYara, although it’s difficult to see what he’ll be able to do to help her against Euron.
- There are actually a fair number of funny moments in this episode, which is a nice change of pace. Pycelle’s slow, plodding walk while Cersei looks on disdainfully is a definite highlight.
- Margaery is made of stronger stuff than her brother Loras. Something tells us he’s not long for this world …
- Come on Jorah, you couldn’t even get one good punch in against Aggo? For shame …
- Brienne and Tormund ‘shipping is absolutely a thing now, right?
A focus on family and female empowerment leads to the best episode of Game of Thrones' sixth season.